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Hooker and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2002-034

Dated

21st March 2002

Number

2002-034

Programme

60 Minutes promo

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
Promo – 60 Minutes – "pissed off" – offensive language – incorrect classification – broadcaster not mindful of the effects of broadcast on children – broadcaster not mindful of explicit material in promo

Findings
Standard G2 – context – no uphold

Standard G8 – G rating correct – no uphold

Standard G12 – correct classification and time of broadcast – no uphold

Standard G24 – not relevant

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] A promo for 60 Minutes was broadcast on TV One at 6.50pm on 10 November 2001. The promo was for an item on Dean Barker, New Zealand’s America’s Cup skipper.

[2] Michael Hooker complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, about Mr Barker’s use in the promo of the phrase "pissed off".

[3] TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint. It did not consider that that the use of the phrase in the promo breached broadcasting standards.

[4] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mr Hooker referred his complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons given, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the promo complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] A promo for 60 Minutes was broadcast on TV One at 6.50pm on 10 November 2001. The promo was for an item about Dean Barker, New Zealand’s America’s Cup skipper.

The Complaint

[7] Michael Hooker complained to TVNZ about Mr Barker’s use in the promo of the phrase "pissed off". He referred to Decision No. 1996-019 in support of his complaint. In that decision, the Authority had upheld a complaint about the use in a promo of the phrase "stop pissing around".

The Standards

[8] Mr Hooker asked that his complaint be assessed under standards G2, G8, G12 and G24 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. Standards G2, G8 and G12 require broadcasters:

G2  To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour, bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs.

G8  To abide by the classification codes and their appropriate time bands as outlined in the agreed criteria for classification.

G12  To be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted viewing hours.

[9] Standard G24 reads:

G24  Broadcasters must be mindful that scenes containing incidents of violence or other explicit material may be acceptable when seen in the total context of a programme, but when extracted for promotion purposes such incidents will be seen out of context and may thereby be unacceptable, not only in terms of the codes but also for the time band during which the trailer is placed.

TVNZ’s Response to the Complaint

[10] TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint. It began its response to Mr Hooker by noting that:

Dean Barker’s comment was shown immediately after a comment by his father in which he observed that Dean was "very focussed". The juxtaposition of the two comments was intriguing given the contrast between the apparent confidence of Mr Barker and his own somewhat anxious response.

[11] TVNZ maintained that:

it is the purpose of a promo to be intriguing because that provides viewers with a reason why they might find the whole item interesting to watch.

[12] TVNZ then commented on the decision which Mr Hooker had referred to in support of his complaint. It considered the Decision No. 1996-019 was not relevant to the present case:

partly because five years have elapsed since the broadcast of the promo and partly because the context is wholly different. In this case the way in which Mr Barker expressed himself in contrast to his father’s comment suggested uncharacteristic anxiety in the man who is to lead the America’s Cup defence. His use of the language was both relevant and significant.

To emphasise how context is vital in judging taste and decency complaints [TVNZ] noted the f*** word (which it believed [Mr Hooker] would accept is somewhat stronger than "pissed off") was first considered by a statutory standards body in 1977 and was not upheld then on the basis of the documentary context in which it was used.

[13] TVNZ concluded that standard G2 had not been breached, given the context and relevancy of the comment.

[14] TVNZ also concluded that standard G8 was not breached. It noted that while the promo screened in G time, it was during a news programme:

which by definition must regularly carry material that is more adult in nature. G time it may have been – but it was not the G time that is aimed at pre-schoolers and young primary school children. [TVNZ] believed that very few among the under 14 year olds likely to be watching would be unfamiliar with the phrase "pissed off".

[15] TVNZ said it believed the same observations it had raised in relation to standard G8 were relevant to the standard G12 aspect of Mr Hooker’s complaint:

"Pissed off" is not an uncommon phrase, and it was used during a promo screened in a news programme. News is not the first choice of all but a very few unattended children.

[16] As to standard G24, TVNZ said:

G24 did not seem to be at risk because the juxtaposition of the two comments referred to above properly reflected the question that the item on 60 Minutes would set out to answer. The promo did just what a promo is meant to do. It was further noted that "pissed off" cannot fairly be described either as a violent or an explicit term. In this case it properly reflected anxiety and irritation in the young skipper’s mind.

Mr Hooker’s Referral to the Authority

[17] In his referral to the Authority, Mr Hooker disagreed with TVNZ’s characterisation of the comment made by Dean Barker as "intriguing":

If he had said "I get fucked off" would TVNZ still argue the phrase was "intriguing" and therefore acceptable? I also believe Dean Barker’s response is better characterised as angry and frustrated rather than "somewhat anxious".

[18] Mr Hooker also disagreed with TVNZ’s comment that his reference to Decision No 1996-019 was not relevant because of the time which had passed since the decision. He referred to the Authority’s research to support his contention that the public had, in fact, grown less tolerant over time of profanity on free-to-air television.

[19] Next, Mr Hooker referred to a number of other decisions of the Authority and to Authority research which he considered supported his argument that the promo breached standard G2.

[20] In response to what he called TVNZ’s "defence" under standard G8 that the time the promo was screened was "not the G time aimed at pre-schoolers and young children", Mr Hooker referred to Decision No 1995-022. He said that in that decision, the Authority said it considered that the context of the programme during which the promo screened would be given "minimal weight" and would not justify the broadcast of the promo "should it otherwise breach the standards".

[21] As to standard G12, Mr Hooker referred to Decision 1996-019. He said he did not consider that the phrase used on this occasion was within:

currently accepted language norms of young children which all language broadcast in promos in G time bands need to be.

[22] Finally, in relation to the standard G24 aspect of his complaint, Mr Hooker also said he regarded the phrase "pissed off" to be explicit when used in the G time band.

TVNZ’s Response to the Authority

[23] TVNZ said it had little to add in its response to the Authority except to emphasise the context and manner in which the phrase had been used. TVNZ said that the words were not used in an explosive or aggressive manner designed to cause insult or offence. They were used "reflectively by the speaker very much as natural figures of speech", it said.

Mr Hooker’s Final Comment

[24] In his final comment, Mr Hooker said:

While I accept that… the speaker did [not] intend to cause insult or offence, I believe TVNZ used the [excerpt] gratuitously for the purpose of achieving heightened impact.

The Authority’s Determination

[25] When it determines a complaint about whether a broadcast contravenes standard G2, the Authority is required to determine whether the material complained about breached currently accepted standards of good taste and decency, taking into account the context of the broadcast. The context is relevant, but not decisive, to the Authority’s determination of whether the programme breached standard G2. Accordingly, the Authority has considered the context of the promo.

[26] The Authority considers that relevant contextual matters include the promo’s G rating and its broadcast in the G time band during One News. Mr Hooker argued that that the context of the programme during which the promo screened should be given "minimal weight" by the Authority, citing Decision No. 1995-022. The Authority nevertheless considers the fact that the broadcast occurred during One News is a relevant contextual matter, and notes that the comment in Decision No. 1995-022 was made with reference to the Authority’s concern about promos for AO rated programmes in PGR time. Returning to the present case, the Authority also considers that the expression used by Mr Barker was uttered during a quiet, self-reflective comment. Having considered these contextual matters, the Authority concludes that the use of the phrase "pissed off" did not breach standard G2.

[27] Standard G8 requires broadcasters to abide by the classification codes and their appropriate time bands. In this case, the Authority considers that the promo was correctly classified as G material and was screened at an appropriate time. Accordingly, it finds that standard G8 was not breached.

[28] In relation to standard G12, the Authority considers that, by correctly applying a G certificate to the promo and screening it within the G time band, TVNZ demonstrated that it was mindful of the effect of the broadcast on children.

[29] As to standard G24, the Authority does not regard this standard as relevant to the complaint, as it does not consider that the use of the phrase "pissed off" constitutes violent or explicit material.

[30] The Authority observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards would be to interpret the Broadcasting Act 1989 in such a way as to limit the broadcaster's statutory freedom of expression in s.14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 in a manner which is not demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society (s.5 of the Bill of Rights). As required by s.6 of the Bill of Rights, the Authority adopts an interpretation of the relevant standards which it considers is consistent with the Bill of Rights.

 

For the above reasons, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
21 March 2002

Appendix

The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:

  1. Michael Hooker’s Formal Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 14 November 2001
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 6 December 2001
  3. Mr Hooker’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 21 December 2001
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 16 January 2002
  5. Mr Hooker’s Final Comment – 28 January 2002